يناير 4, 2020 syr data

“Honor crimes” in media discourse… did media perform its duty? 

For more than four decades, the Syrian media in all its forms (video, audio, read) kept tackling the issues of the Syrian society, without shedding the light on the reasons behind the most major social problems, and without suggesting any appropriate solutions, or indicating the standpoints that should be taken towards problems that become deep-rooted and expand and reflect negatively on everyone. The media seemed to pursue the policy of submitting to the society’s authority, laws and popular traditions, and was not able to develop a well-advised media approach that addresses dangerous social problems, especially crimes that are committed out of preserving the “honor” and “washing away the shame”. The media was content with its role as “passive conveyer” of the incidents, covering up violence against women, and never doing its role in fighting the outbreak of these crimes against Syrian women.  

In most Syrian media, crimes that have been committed in the name of “honor” were discussed as quick news that is merely exciting, without having any thoughtful and informed coverage that can present the truth to the recipient, and determine the dangers behind those popular traditions that bless these crimes. The media was even often content in addressing this issue in accordance with the recipients’ taste, which is portraying the woman as “the criminal” who deserves punishment, whereas the man in the story is portrayed as “the hero” who performed a great act that is worthy of praise!      

If we review what the media of the Syrian regime has presented, whether it be news or press reports discussing incidents related to this kind of crime since 2011 until now, we find they are all similar and there is one model in style and phrasing and in the way crime is presented; there is always the female victim that was murdered by her brother or husband or father, and the murderer who committed the murder for the purpose of “washing away the shame”, which often stems from doubting that she has committed an obscene act, without having any clear evidence of the act she was accused of committing.

On the 18th of September 2018, many websites affiliated with the Syrian regime reported the news of the death of teenager Diana Abu Hassoon from Al Sweida in southern Syria, who died after a gunshot to her head from her father’s rifle, under circumstances described by most of these websites as “mysterious”, and without making direct accusations to the murdering father. (Syria 24) website reported then that the victim’s father had received a telephone call from her school informing him of her absence. Then the dead body of the girl was found on the airport road near Al Mazraa town. Some websites reported that her father shot her by mistake while cleaning his rifle.    

On the other hand, another crime took place in Tartous on the 20th of august 2015, where a husband killed his wife after 18 days of being married, because she was two hours late going back home. He doubted her behaviour and killed her after physically torturing her in order to get a confession on the act he accused her of committing. Here, we find ourselves wondering: were all these crimes against women committed based on the so-called “honor” or were they based on “doubt”?!

Syrian journalist Hind Botho thinks the regime’s official media addresses the topic of “honor crimes” as a topic that falls under the category of violence against Syrian women in general. Moreover, some news websites highlights the topic as exciting news rather than news that indicates the necessity of raising the awareness of the society. 

Botho said in an interview with Geiroon: “the regime’s official newspapers specifically (Al Baath, Tishreen, Al Thawra) did not mention the story in the context of exciting news but in the context of the situation of Syrian women in the society as a whole. In addition, there has always been focus on this situation but it was for the purpose of falsifying facts and obscuring the truth, and not for the purpose of resolving this issue and taking it to justice, and later amending the civil status law that has not been amended for many years. We also heard recently that some sections were amended, but it doesn’t measure up to becoming fair to Syrian women.”  

One of the most important points that was overlooked by the media –according to Botho- is the subject of sanctions for this type of crime. She went on to say: “the Syrian press was strictly forbidden from talking about the judiciary, and sometimes we were harassed to the point of being suspended, and we were forbidden from talking to judges unless we get an official approval from the Ministry of Justice. Therefore, the fact of not discussing the sanctions for this crime and the importance of amending the relevant laws opened the way for immoral persons to exploit the loopholes in the laws and commit crimes against women. A family member might murder his sister or wife or daughter for motives other than honor like inheritance or revenge or extreme anger over a dispute, yet the murderer can claim that he murdered the victim to defend the family’s honor.”    

Amongst the many crimes, a few days ago the city of Afreen in northern Syria witnessed a crime where a man murdered his ex-wife by shooting her in a public park. Activists posted a video showing the moment of the incident. The murderer is from the city of Saraqeb in Idleb countryside. The incident occurred after a verbal argument took place between them while the murderer was trying to force his ex-wife to go with him, then things escalated and he murdered her in front of her children, claiming later on that it was an “honor” crime.      

“Sultan Sleiman Shah” district to which the murderer belongs issued a statement confirming the crime, but it justified the crime saying it was committed to defend the “honor”, and accused the dead woman of remarrying while still being married to her husband and hiding the kids from him. The statement triggered angry reactions among activists, as many considered that the district is trying to justify the premeditated murder and place it under the so-called “honor crimes”, and they called on the judicial authorities to prosecute the perpetrator legally for “premeditated murder”.   

On the other hand, the Syrian opposition media or (the alternative media) was not doing any better than the regime’s official media. There is clear absence of a systematic and thoughtful approach in raising the issue of “honor crimes”, in addition to the fact that organizations and institutions concerned with documenting violations are not following up with these murders, nor documenting them in the opposition-ruled areas, which prevented these murders from taking the space they deserve in the media.

Syrian writer and journalist Suhair Omari describes the alternative media’s coverage of this kind of crime as shameful, as it did not get the necessary attention. She said to Geiroon: the alternative media tackles this topic in disproval and total rejection; fearing that the society might accuse the media of justifying or promoting this topic. There is confusion between the two concepts; as when awareness is spread about the inadmissibility of killing girls to “wash away the shame”, this doesn’t mean the media is encouraging adultery! So most people have social confusion about this concept, as whenever a crime is criticized, they understand it as promoting the act or justifying it. That is the reason the media has to be neutral and has to have the capacity to spread the awareness on the inadmissibility of killing women, without promoting or justifying any immoral behaviors according to societal norms.      

There have been cases where these crimes were highlighted in a way that justifies the murderer’s act and sympathizes with him secretly or explicitly, and justifies committing the murder. Among these cases is what happened on the 22nd of October 2018, where a video was posted of a girl named Rasha Bseis being murdered by her brother who shot her using a machine gun in order to defend the “family’s honor”. A person standing nearby was cheering for him while the video was being filmed. This incident is said to have occurred in the city of Jarablos on the Syrian Turkish border, which is ruled by the Syrian opposition. A website called (el dorar el shamiyya) then posted news about the crime with the headline: “her husband pushed her to prostitution in Jarablos…then her brother took revenge”. This headline provided a clear and explicit justification of the brother committing this crime against his sister, in addition to accusing the victim of prostitution without any tangible evidence, and before conducting any investigation to uncover the circumstances of the crime.   

According to Omari, the media should have “deliberate plans” so that these crimes are covered in an informed way that does not justify murder, and does not in any way demonstrate any kind of prejudice or impenitence against the girl whether by the media or the audience.  

Regardless of the way the media tackles “honor crimes”, they all –without exception- follow the approach of (reaction media). Omari explained saying: “there is the action media and the reaction media. The reaction happens when a story or an incident occurs then the media talks about it, like the murder of Rasha Bseis. However, our media –unfortunately- lacks the prior establishment of collective awareness, as the media should play its role of establishing the thought and culture of community members especially at the current times when there is less demand on books and reading. Therefore, the visual media in all its forms should initially play this role, and should have plans to spread awareness and educate men on the concept of honor, and how important it is for each person to be responsible for their decisions and their life.   

These crimes are a clear violation of the human’s right to live, as they fundamentally contravene the third article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that: “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security”. Moreover, despite the lack of any accurate statistics on the number of the victims of these crimes before and after the revolution, due to the absent role of centers that document violations, the media in all its forms (audio, visual and printed) should play its role of supporting women’s issues in general and focusing on honor crimes in specific, and should also adopt a curative and awareness-raising behavior when highlighting these crimes. This requires working on establishing actions rather than reactions, and the media should become a means for making a difference in the society and developing it for the better. 

This human rights article was published with the support of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) and the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).